Emirates Skills: training for the race to the bottom

A literal red carpet was rolled out in the lobby of our building today. Large tents were set up in the courtyard, and incredibly fancy catering (they set up a backdrop with nice lighting, and glittering tablecloths and chair covers adorned the furniture) wafted smells of beef biryani towards passerbys. Nobody at the university seems to know what’s going on, but a small sign and a website reveals quite a bit. Emirates Skills is, ostensibly, a national competition in the UAE designed to recognize and promote technical expertise among the youth of the local population. A national technical contest really wouldn’t be anything to write about, were it not for the fact that it seems to have been setup by people who seriously lack the expertise to be setting up such contests. For example: the first technical specification outlining the conditions of a contest that I read was filled with very obvious grammer and spelling errors. Okay, so someone forgot to proofread that… but even worse, the “skills” that are being tested are very vendor-specific. The first paragraph of the document:

The name of the skill is Information Technology-Office Software Applications; this skill covers various uses of Microsoft office [sic] 2007 suits [sic]. Practical mathematical and theoretical knowledge.

Databases can only be created in MS Access. Spreadsheets can only be created in Excel. The documents actually notes that it is testing the same skills as covered in the “Microsoft Office Specialist” certification program. Really guys? There’s a whole ecosystem of software out there, and while Microsoft Office may be the most pervasive office suite, there are so many alternatives out there, and it doesn’t make sense to be promoting one company’s software over another. (The contest isn’t even being sponsored by Microsoft!) These limitations really restrict creativity and turn youth away from thinking about how to best accomplish the task at hand, instead training them to be mindless drones (the education system in India has done a great job of doing that to a large portion of the population). Ah, well… maybe the robotics category will turn out something cool.

Nevermind, they’re forcing everyone to use Lego Mindstorms.

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